The First Lady of the South African Sommelier World

Thursday, 11 April, 2019 - Trudie Webb (Editor)
It's 2019 and hard to believe we're still seeing and celebrating firsts for women. But Esmé Groenewald's completion of the SASA (South African Sommelier Association) Level 2 Certificate, making her the first female to hold this qualification in SA, is worth celebrating and marks a shift in the sommelier and wine industry which will motivate and inspire other women to enter the field.

History tells us that wine was essentially reserved for men, drunk by men and produced by men. We've seen trailblazing women enter the South African wine industry and holding their own against the stalwart male wine producers. We've seen many other strong women inspired by them and following in their path. In a still predominantly male sommelier industry, Esmé Groenewald has changed the somm game by becoming the first woman to hold a SASA Level 2 qualification.

As with most, Esmé didn't choose wine, it chose her. Working in restaurants from her high school years, she moved up the ranks to management and was soon looking for a new challenge. She enrolled for some wine courses and one day the penny dropped as she realised she could do wine for a living. She's worked at some fine establishments, gaining a wealth of knowledge and experience. At Makaron Restaurant at Majeka, she found her own groove, cementing her love for the wine industry and finally setting her on her path to becoming a certified sommelier.

Completing the Level 2 Certificate is no joke. Esmé is currently one of only 10 in the country with this qualification and all of her peers will attest to the rigorous testing for the Level 2 exam. 

"The Exam consists out of 3 parts that consume the whole day. You start off with a theory exam, then a blind tasting (not just wine, it could be any beverage from anywhere in the world). You end your exam with a practical where you get tested not only on theory and food & wine pairing but also on any practical scenario that could happen in a restaurant."

Her thirst for knowledge seems to be never ending. She is currently enrolled in the WSET Diploma program, another intense qualification. With her new qualification in her pocket, she was recently elected to run on the board of SASA where she will focus on education and training. It's not all about books and theory to her, she strongly endorses working on the floor and regularly does so herself at The Vine Bistro at Glenelly, among others.

As consultant Restaurant Manager and Sommelier for a small portfolio clients while managing the educational division of Somm101, an educational wine business run by Esmé and her partner, Barry Scholfield, she has a lot on her plate, but nothing seems to be too much for her. Esmé, with fellow SASA members have transformed the sommelier scene in South Africa to a growing and booming one. Certificates like the SASA Level 2 are now internationally recognised by the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale (ASI), adding even more value to our sommelier industry.

While taking pride in being the first woman to hold a SASA Level 2 qualification, she hopes to not only inspire other women to enter the wine industry, but anyone with a passion and enough drive to chase their dreams.